Each country has its own unique style of food. Depending upon where you are, even food with the same ingredients will have a different taste. In a way, food has a unique charm in the sense it is able to reflect cultural and geographic differences. For example, in Asia almost all food is served with a bowl of rice, but in Western culture most of the time food in served with bread. When rice is served in America, it has a different taste different from what I was used to eating in Korea because it was grown in a different environment utilizing a different method.
Keep in mind, however, each individual person has his or her own distinct classification system of judging whether specific food is good or not. This is why radical changes in food culture can occur. Nowadays, food in Asia is becoming westernized and items such hamburgers and pizzas are among Asian teenagers’ favorite foods. Now, my parents’ generation thinks food of this type is not healthy and believes they are terrible items as a diet staple. My father, for example, he needs to have a bowl of soup, at least four different kinds of dishes, and a bowl of rice for every meal including breakfast.
For most my parents’ generation, this is the accepted classification system of eating a meal. Conversely, several American friends of mine think Korea’s most favorite food, “Kimchi”, literally stinks. This is ironic as when we are introduced to a new type of food, we first judge by smell, how it looks, its ingredients and, finally, by taste. Just as my friends are skeptical of trying new food, I still have trepidation towards food that I have never eaten before.
My interest in food has also tied in with my interest in African Studies and I decided to eat at a restaurant called “MOYA” upon the recommendation of a Professor Lacy. Despite the fact that told me how authentic this place is, I assumed the food would not that much different from what I usually eat figuring the restaurant must be somewhat westernized in order to attract people’s tastes that are not familiar with Ethiopian food. However, my foregone conclusions were wiped away the moment I stepped into the restaurant, as there were a lot of subtle touches and I could feel the air of Ethiopian culture.
Along with a strong smell of frankincense, an Ethiopian waitress came out to fit us with traditional Ethiopian clothes. My first impression of MOYA was that the restaurant had strong cultural and spiritual roots. All the tables were made out of wood with dark red color and the chairs were decorated with paintings of ancient African people. In the middle of the restaurant, there were decoration of actual bowls and pots made out of dark red clay that were used for cooking. In fact, all the colors in the restaurants were close to nature. While not fancy, the place was rather cozy.
My friends and I ordered three dishes but when the food was served, I automatically thought it was an appetizer because it consisted of one big dish that was put in the middle of the table and only a few bread balls were in it. Soon after, three clay bowls were brought out and the waitress started to pour some soup out of each bowl. She told us to start eating, but there were no spoons or folks. We figured out the dishes we ordered were stew-like food, so we straightened the bread balls and dipped them into the soup in order to eat. We also realized that we had to eat with our fingers as well.
The food was unexpectedly delicious and taste was surprisingly not that different from Korean food. In fact, one dish tasted just like curry. The bread balls that were served with the soup were called injera and they particularly made the Ethiopian food taste different. The meal was a departure from the norm for me since we were eating with our fingers, we were not able to take a big bite of the bread so this automatically slowed down our speed of eating and we were allowed to have a conversation while eating, which is very unusual in Korean culture.
Korean people always in a hurry at the dining table because there are too many sub-dishes conversation is kept to a minimum. So, the Ethiopian dinner was another good way to unite with a group of friends and have a fun evening with a casual dinner. Since a young age, I learned how to use chopsticks and was taught as eating with your fingers is uncivilized. Therefore, it was shocking to me when I had to use my fingers to eat as it was taboo in my classification system.
However, I realized that it contradicts my own ideas because I often use my fingers to eat such as when eating hamburgers, pizza, chicken wings and chicken tenders. It just appeared to be more offensive because I never had Ethiopian food before and I never knew how to eat that type of food before in my entire life. The experience at the MOYA meant a lot to me as it gave me the chance to be more mature as an anthropologist in the way it provided a vehicle for learning and understanding a different culture.
Many times, the ability to learn about new cultures is rooted in investing time in new experiences. If a person spends too much time surrounded by the same environment, then there will be a tendency to look at the world through a very narrow vision or, worse, develop a mindset full of preconceived notions or stereotypes. While eating in a new restaurant may seem like a minor affair, the reality is that it can open up a huge window of the mind in terms of becoming more accepting of new people and new cultures.